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Creatures That Once Were Men

Creatures That Once Were Men
PART I
In front of you is the main street, with two rows of miserable-looking huts with shuttered
windows and old walls pressing on each other and leaning forward. The roofs of these
time-worn habitations are full of holes, and have been patched here and there with laths;
from underneath them project mildewed beams, which are shaded by the dusty-leaved
elder-trees and crooked white willow-- pitiable flora of those suburbs inhabited by the
poor.
The dull green time-stained panes of the windows look upon each other with the
cowardly glances of cheats. Through the street and toward the adjacent mountain runs the
sinuous path, winding through the deep ditches filled with rain-water. Here and there are
piled heaps of dust and other rubbish-- either refuse or else put there purposely to keep
the rain-water from flooding the houses. On the top of the mountain, among green
gardens with dense foliage, beautiful stone houses lie hidden; the belfries of the churches
rise proudly toward the sky, and their gilded crosses shine beneath the rays of the sun.
During the rainy weather the neighboring town pours its water into this main road, which,
at other times, is full of its dust, and all these miserable houses seem, as it were, thrown
by some powerful hand into that heap of dust, rubbish, and rainwater.
They cling to the ground beneath the high mountain, exposed to the sun, surrounded by
decaying refuse, and their sodden appearance impresses one with the same feeling as
would the half-rotten trunk of an old tree.
At the end of the main street, as if thrown out of the town, stood a two-storied house,
which had been rented from Petunikoff, a merchant and resident of the town. It was in
comparatively good order, being farther from the mountain, while near it were the open
fields, and about half-a-mile away the river ran its winding course.
This large old house had the most dismal aspect amid its surroundings. The walls bent
outward, and there was hardly a pane of glass in any of the windows, except some of the
fragments, which looked like the water of the marshes--dull green. The spaces of wall
between the windows were covered with spots, as if time were trying to write there in
hieroglyphics the history of the old house, and the tottering roof added still more to its
pitiable condition. It seemed as if the whole building bent toward the ground, to await the
last stroke of that fate which should transform it into a chaos of rotting remains, and
finally into dust.
The gates were open, one-half of them displaced and lying on the ground at the entrance,
while between its bars had grown the grass, which also covered the large and empty
court-yard. In the depths of this yard stood a low, iron-roofed, smoke-begrimed building.
The house itself was of course unoccupied, but this shed, formerly a blacksmith's forge,
 
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